The two most powerful men in South African politics emerged red-eyed and weary from their 16-hour negotiating session, but they were visibly elated. First,
Nelson Mandela informed a post-midnight news conference of what he called “a very serious concession”—the African National Congress (ANC) was suspending its 29-year-old
guerrilla war as a prelude to talks on a new, nonracial, democratic constitution for South Africa. Then, President F. W. (Frederik) de Klerk, smiling broadly, announced that his white-minority government would release up to 3,000 political prisoners, pardon about 22,000 exiled dissidents and review some of its more draconian security laws. In a joint statement, the two leaders declared, “We are convinced that what we have agreed upon today can become a milestone on the road to true peace and prosperity for our country.”
The historic pact, known as the Pretoria Minute, was the first officially declared ceasefire in South Africa’s racial conflict since the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), launched its guerrilla war in 1961. But black and white extremists immediately attacked the accord, saying that they would not observe a ceasefire to which they had not agreed. And some ANC radicals claimed that even that group’s leadership would have difficulty enforcing the order on its rank and file. Certainly, there was no letup in factional fighting between ANC supporters and the Zulu Inkatha movement in Natal province, where more than 4,000 have died. Elsewhere in the country, five days of rioting killed at least 40 people in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth and 11 more in the township of Kagiso, 70 km west of Johannesburg. Said a Pretoria-based diplomat, on condition of anonymity: “Peace pacts between the government and the ANC at the top level are one thing, but ending the endemic violence on the ground will be another.”
If the ceasefire can be enforced, however, it would remove the largest and most effective black guerrilla group from the fray. Spear of the Nation has about 8,000 combatants, armed with Soviet and East German weapons, based inside and outside South Africa. Although they have never come close to toppling the Pretoria government, the insurgents have managed to sustain a low-grade urban terrorist campaign. Most of their bombing and shooting attacks have been aimed at police stations and other government buildings, but they have occasionally struck so-called soft targets, including crowded movie theatres and shopping malls. Guerrillas infiltrating from neighboring black states have also mined roads in border regions. Mandela has now pledged that there will be “no infiltration of men and arms into South Africa” and that any related military action “will be suspended with immediate effect.” However, the 72-year-old ANC deputy president made it clear that what he called “mass action,” or protest against apartheid, would continue.
The ANC seems to have conceded more than the government. De Klerk had been insisting on an end to hostilities since he freed Mandela last February after more than 27 years’ imprisonment. But the ANC had consistently refused to give up armed struggle until Pretoria rescinded the 1982 Internal Security Act, particularly the provision that permits indefinite detention without trial. There is no such commitment in the new agreement. So far, de Klerk has only lifted a nearly four-year-old
State of emergency in three provinces (it remains in effect in Natal) and is obligated by the Pretoria Minute only to “review” certain provisions of the security act. Mandela himself renewed his criticism of the police, whom he accused of mistreating blacks. “Until the government tames the police,” he declared, “we will continue to be dissatisfied.”
In the black townships, senior ANC officials carefully portrayed the pact as one in which there were no winners or losers. Walter Sisulu, a fellow political prisoner and longtime associate of Mandela, said that although the two sides had stopped firing at each other, “it does not mean the end of the armed struggle.” That, he added, “is quite a different issue, which will be settled when we reach the point of no return”—meaning a final political settlement. Joe Slovo, general secretary of the South African Communist Party and one of only two whites in the ANC hierarchy, added that the guerrillas would revive the war if the government does not live up to its side of the bargain. Slovo also called for continued protest within the country and international economic sanctions to maintain pressure on Pretoria.
As well, ANC militants complained about what they called capitulation by their leaders. One said that most military commanders in Spear of the Nation and many of the ANC’s younger members, particularly in Natal, opposed the ceasefire. The ANC-allied African Youth Congress, the country’s largest black youth organization, said that thé ceasefire was not justified because of continued police brutality. It issued a statement calling for a continuation of the anti-apartheid struggle “on all fronts.” The radical Pan Africanist Congress, which broke away from the ANC in 1959 and later pursued its own military campaign, also announced that it would not honor the ceasefire because it had not been a party to the talks.
The reaction from right-wing whites was equally ominous. Andries Treurnicht, head of the opposition Conservative party, called the agreement “untenable and illegal.” And Eddie van Maltitz, a self-styled general in the extremist neo-Nazi Afrikaner Resistance Movement, said that his group is “mobilizing our forces” to prevent a Communist takeover.
Against that backdrop of threats, Mandela and de Klerk will have to move on to the next hurdle in their quest for peace: how to give the 28-million black majority the vote without robbing the five-million white minority of its rights. Said David Walsh, a politicial scientist at the University of Cape Town: “There is a clear-cut and possibly quite serious conflict between the ANC and the government on this.” He added: “The ANC wants universal-suffrage elections for a constituent assembly which will draft the new constitution. The government says that this procedure begs the question of how to protect minorities.” Shaky as it is, the ceasefire has at least improved the climate for resolving that profound issue.
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